Slice of Life: When things fall short

“Would anyone like to share their summary?”

That’s what I asked my students yesterday. Each had tried to summarize a challenging section of a nonfiction article. This is a necessary evil of reading to learn. No matter what the text, summarizing is a slippery skill. It may appear straightforward, but when one sits down to do the work, it is anything but. It was a struggle.  Knowing this, but wanting an example of an attempt, I hoped a brave soul might want to share.

A, one of my quietest students,  hands me her notebook. Her thinking is careful and thought out. An approximation of what we are aiming for. I set it down for the doc cam to project.  Students read silently as I read aloud.

I look up, and the author has her head down.

Apparently, B, who had asked me earlier how to spell article, had discreetly informed her she had misspelled this word.

I looked at him. What?

“I didn’t know it would upset her?” he said.

Ironic in so many ways. Both students are fragile. Both students want so much to do well and are hard on themselves. The one who corrected had the exact same problem as the other. If the situation were reversed, he probably would have responded the same way.

While spelling is an issue for both of them and it matters when you share publically, I didn’t see it. And what mattered at that moment wasn’t about summary it was about being vulnerable and brave. I commended A’s bravery, and I thought about B and his comment.

Later in Writing Workshop, we were setting goals for our à la Katherine Bomer true essays. Another challenging task. About half of the students had approximated the work. A quarter of the students wrote informational articles and a quarter wrote opinion pieces. This is a natural place to land, and my lesson’s intent was for students to self-assess and adjust for another attempt. Everyone had done their best work in an area they had never tried before.

C who is used to reaching well beyond expectations had written a more infomational type of text wasn’t happy. “My next essay will be on how I hate true essay.”

My thought, how it is hard to fail. Fall short of expectation. That was how I felt in the moment. How I felt when B criticized A and when A cried.

Today we start our next true essay cycle. I know what my topic will be.

Slice of Life: Lessons my students teach me

There is nothing quite like connecting to an author or a character in a book. And when we share that love with another human, our feeling for the literature and each otter rise exponentially.

Yesterday I asked my students to come to the carpet if they were interested in Kate DiCamillo’s new book. In less than 15 seconds, half of the class was seated in front of me. I held up two copies of  Louisana’s Way Home.

“I just finished this book. And you know what? The main character, Louisana Elefante, is from Lister, Florida,” I said.

“Elefante? Is there a Raymie in it?”

I was expecting the Lister to intrigue them because of our read aloud, The Tiger Rising, but no, The connection was to another book they had read on their own.

“Why yes! She’s her best friend!”

“Is there a cat named…”

“A dog…”

“Beverly…”

Yes. Yes and yes.

I didn’t tell them this was a sequel to Raymie. And I’m glad I didn’t. They saw it, and as so often happens, they taught me something. About their reading lives and about the story. Truth be told, I didn’t get far enough in Raymie Nightengale to see those connections.   At the moment I read Raymie, it didn’t work for me. I set it aside. But, I couldn’t put Louisana’s Way Home down. She captured me in a way Raymie did not. Funny how that works.

I raffled off the first read of this lovely book.  The ones that didn’t get the first read picked up Raymie Nightengale to keep them company while they wait for Louisana’s Way. I had that same feeling. I wanted to read Raymie, Give her a go again. Seems I’ll have to wait. All the copies are checked out.

It never ceases to amaze me. What my students add to my understanding and love of literature.

Knowing our purpose

My cat sits. Gazing out the window into the dark. Filled with the purpose of his being. His job is clear. Sleep. Notice. Prowl. Sleep some more. Purr. Allow humans to adore him.

And here I sit. Gazing at the papers I need to look over. Thinking about the various child-centered and adult-oriented snafus of the day and wonder about my purpose that started out so clear at the beginning of the week. Adjusted for the day, readjusted by the hour. .Sitting here, I wonder, how true am I staying to my purpose. What is it that gets me up in the morning and requires me to bring it every day?

I have been given 31 kiddos for 180 days of their 9-year-old life.   In those 180 days. I want for them to grow a year as a reader, a writer, a scientist, a mathematician. But more importantly, I want them to know this is just one step along a long path. Not only toward their growth as a thinker but as a human. I want them to walk out with a little more aptitude in seeing one another. To grow as humans. That more than anything matters.

Thinking about the clear and simple need for a huge and constant doses of humanity, I can’t help but be thankful for the children’s literature we consume and discuss daily.

And with that, I’m sending out deep appreciation for the writers who fill our room with their beautiful words. To Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate. You are our most recent mentors. We are grateful for the centering force you give our classroom.

Tomorrow is another day of unpredictable moments in a nine-year old life. All except that tomorrow we will read your words.

Pausing to celebrate

I have students who write stories about basketball and video games. The kind of writing that has no need for endpoints. The frenetic energy of the writer colors their world. It just goes.

After years of seeing this, you’d think I’d have an action-oriented mentor text to guide them toward convention.  But no. Today,  I sat down with M and R, ready to deliver the usual, add an endpoint at the pause speech. Fortunately, I paused and began with a question. “What type of ending did you decide to use?”

“Action!” M said with a huge smile. It was all he could do to keep seated. R nodded with a look that had that same jubilant energy. They were bursting with pride telling me why they chose that craft move. “It fit the story! It matched the lead!”

“Of course! Your piece is filled with power,” I said, and we paused to celebrate what they had done. And in one of those magical teaching moments when the dots connect, I remembered a story under construction in the class. “Would you like to see J’s story? It has the same kind of action as yours and might give you some ideas.”

Their eyes lit up. “Yes! He’s a great writer!”

After J’s approval, I passed it on.

And then, in the back of the room, I heard, “J’s a mentor!”